5 Oct 2010

Woolf in the Digital World

Woolf in the Digital World

Karen V. Kukil, Associate Curator of Special Collections, Smith College


In June 2003 when Smith College hosted the thirteenth international conference on Virginia Woolf, we mounted an exhibition in Neilson Library. Woolf in the World echoed the theme of our conference and featured photographs from Leslie Stephen’s family album, manuscripts, drawings, and Hogarth press editions. I hoped to publish a catalog of the show for the conference, but I ran out of time. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

After the conference we had everything in the show professionally scanned by Pivot Media (http://www.pivotmedia.com/). This local company provided high resolution scans, which were also delivered in medium and large files for the web. Jessica Bumpous, a recent graduate of Smith College designed an online version of the exhibition with help from her library mentor, Sika Berger. This project cost less than one fifth the price of a published catalog and the high resolution scans continue to be purchased by scholars for fifteen dollars each, generating income for the library.

Before the digital show went public on the Mortimer Rare Book Room’s website, I applied to the copyright holders for permission to publish these rare photographs and manuscripts from our collection (http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/rarebook/exhibitions).Since our website is non-commercial, educational, and open to the public, the permission process was relatively straightforward.
Finding copyright holders can be tricky. The WATCH (Writers Artists and Their Copyright Holders) database of copyright contacts for writers, artists, photographers, and prominent figures in other creative fields is run jointly by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Reading Library. It is the best place to begin a search for copyright information (tyler.hrc.utexas.edu). Another good site for general information about fair use is the Cornell University Copyright Information Center (http://www.copyright.cornell.edu/). Peter B. Hirtle also provides a detailed guide to “Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States” on the Cornell site.

All of the literary agencies waived their normal permission fees for our project. At the bottom of our online exhibition Woolf in the World is a list of the copyright holders, including the Society of Authors, which represents the estates of Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, and Lytton Strachey, among others. We received a three-year license from the Society to display electronic facsimiles of over fifty images on our website. This license can be extended.

The following June during one of the functions in London at the fourteenth international conference on Virginia Woolf, I happened to sit next to Henrietta Garnett. She had a stack of mail in her hand and the top letter was addressed to me. Instead of mailing the envelope, she simply handed it to me. Her letter very kindly gave us permission to reproduce photographs, illustrations, and dust jacket designs by her grandmother, Vanessa Bell.

I have heard anecdotally that our online exhibitions and library guides are more useful to students and scholars around the globe than a limited run of an exhibition catalog. Mark Hussey added a link to our site in his introduction to the recent Harcourt edition of To the Lighthouse. Various Virginia Woolf societies have also provided links on their websites to “Virginia Woolf in the Virtual World,” our library study guide by Robin Kinder for students (www.smith.edu/libraries/fyi/woolf.htm).

Our online exhibitions have also attracted new gifts to Smith College. Last fall we received over twenty family photographs from the estate of Mary L. S. Bennett (1913-2005), who was the daughter of Lettice and H. A. L. Fisher. They include Pattle, Fisher, Jackson, and Stephen family photographs by G. C. Beresford, Gabriel Loppé, and O. G. Rejlander, among others.

These photographs and other additions to the collection will be displayed this spring in a new exhibition in Neilson Library. Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group: A Pen and a Press of Their Own (April 8-July 31, 2010) will supplement the traveling art installation in the Smith College Museum of Art—A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections (April 3-June 15, 2010). Between the shows in the museum and the library we will display hundreds of paintings, watercolors, prints, drawings, woodcuts, broadsides, photographs, letters, manuscripts, books, dust jacket designs, fabrics, embroidery, furniture, tiles, rugs, pottery, and sculpture associated with the Bloomsbury Group (www.smith.edu/artmuseum/exhibitions/index.php).

Other digital and media projects to which we have contributed during the past five years will also be featured in my library exhibition. They include the textual project begun by Julia Briggs in 2005 and now online (http://www.woolfonline.com/). Virginia Woolf’s corrected page proof of the “Time Passes” section of To the Lighthouse is on this site along with photographs from our Leslie Stephen album. With additional funding, we hope the Woolf Online site will eventually include the entire novel.
Over the past three years, Smith psychology professor Michele Wick and videographer Kate Lee have created a website on Woolf, Creativity, and Madness, which features streaming videos about Virginia Woolf and her family. The scripts are Woolf’s words from her journals and memoirs and most of the images come from the Mortimer Rare Book Room. Once permissions are secured, Professor Wick will formally launch the Smith website, complete with a genogram of Woolf’s extended family and links to reliable scientific websites.

Next spring we will begin an archives program for undergraduates at Smith College (www.smith.edu/archives/index.php). Senior projects in the program may be creative and practical. They can include online exhibitions and finding aids for collections, such as the Mary Bennett photographs. In the future we will be able to link images to the finding aids for collections in the Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections database (asteria.fivecolleges.edu/index.html)

Over the past thirty years I have worked with countless authors, artists, agencies, manuscript repositories, and scholars. The families associated with Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, and other members of the Bloomsbury Group are extraordinary in their generosity and support of scholarship. Jeremy Crow at the Society of Authors is the consummate professional. Bloomsbury scholars are unusually congenial and supportive of each other. Whenever I turn my attention to a Bloomsbury-related project, I feel as if I am entering a green oasis or coming home.

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